A four-piece band of Italian rockers won the Eurovision Song Contest in the early hours of Sunday, giving one of the countries hit hardest in Europe by the coronavirus pandemic reason to cheer.
Maneskin’s win was only Italy’s third victory in the immensely popular contest and the first since Toto Cutugno took the honor in 1990.
The music festival was canceled last year amid the pandemic but this year's event in Rotterdam’s Ahoy arena with its regime of testing and strict hygiene protocols was seen as a step toward a post-COVID-19 return to live entertainment.
“We think that the whole event was a relief. We think that we were really thankful ... to have had the chance to be part of this huge event," Maneskin lead singer Damiano David said.
"This Eurovision means a lot, I think, to the whole of Europe. It’s going to be a lighthouse. So thank you, everybody. Really,” he added.
Italy, the bookmakers’ favorite, trailed Switzerland, France and Malta after the national juries delivered their votes but were propelled to victory by votes from the viewing public.
“The audience is the most important thing, of course," said bassist Victoria De Angelis.
"So the fact that so many people vote for us, it’s the most meaningful, because that means that those people are coming to our gigs, they are listening to our music. And this has much more value than a jury”
A crowd of 3,500 fans, who all tested negative for the coronavirus, watched the finalists perform live.
Maneskin is Danish for moonlight, a tribute to De Angelis' home country. The band, which honed its musical style busking in Rome, won with a total of 529 points from second-placed France. Switzerland, which led after national juries had voted, finished third.
United Kingdom singer James Newman's song, “Embers,” failed to ignite any love at all and did not score a single point, finishing last, just as the U.K. did at the previous Eurovision two years ago.
U.S. rapper Flo Rida didn’t manage to translate his star power into points for tiny San Marino’s entry that was sung by Senhit. They finished with just 50 points.
For lovers of kitsch, German singer Jendrik played a sparkling ukulele and danced with a woman dressed in a giant hand costume optimistically showing the victory sign. He finished close to last.
Lithuanian band The Roop danced in bright yellow costumes in a tongue-in-cheek homage to 1980s synth pop.
Pravi’s song. “Voilà,” was a restrained ballad that built to a swirling crescendo on a largely darkened stage, but there was still plenty of the over-the-top spectacle that has become Eurovision’s trademark.
Norwegian singer Andreas Haukeland, whose stage name TIX is a reference to growing up with Tourette syndrome, sang “Fallen Angel” in a pair of giant white wings while chained to four prancing devils.
At the other end of the spectrum -- Finland’s hard-rocking Blind Channel played their song “Dark Side” amid bursts of pyrotechnics and Ukraine’s Go_A performed surrounded by skeletal white trees.
Ahead of the show, crowds gathered outside the arena in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. Drag queens mingled with families as a man in a gold suit waited to get into the venue.
Milo Mateo and Carlo Sossa, wearing matching sequin-covered hats and draped in Italian flags, came from Italy for the show and were hoping for a Maneskin victory since that would bring next year’s contest to Italy.
“If we win, it will be very, very nice, because the next year will be in Italy. That’s very good. Let’s hope. Fingers crossed,” Mateo said as he waited to get into the arena.
The popular Icelandic band Dadi og Gagnamagnid, known for its kitsch dance moves and green leisurewear costumes, could not perform live because one member tested positive for the virus earlier in the week. Instead, viewers saw a recording of one of the band's dress rehearsals.
“The point was to go and actually experience how it was to compete in Eurovision, and that’s just really not happening,” lead singer Dadi Freyr said from isolation in Rotterdam.
Maneskin lead singer David said the victory was a vindication of the band's career trajectory that started with them busking on the streets of Rome.
“We feel like everything we did since the day we met and since the day we started playing and playing on the streets is really making sense and it’s worth it,” he said.